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Entry date: 5-4-2022 - The beginning of the Army Story - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

During the summer of 1987, I continued to work at Marshall’s, mohawk and all, and spend time with my friends as I looked down the barrel at my impending date with the US Army. It’s probably time to start telling that story.

During the early part of my senior year, I began getting calls from recruiters. Maybe I checked the wrong box in a school survey or something or maybe it is just what they do. Probably the latter. At first, I remember rejoicing in telling these guys to take a walk. I’m sure I was polite about it, but joining the military was not something I thought I would like to do.

There was one, though, Sergeant Oka, from the US Marine Corps that kept calling and calling. Finally, one day he asked if I wanted to get a meal with him and I thought, “What the hell. Free food.” I figured I could humor this guy and get some free food out of it and that would be that. Sergeant Oka came and picked me up from the apartment my mom and I shared, and we were off to get some food.

Sergeant Oka was about five or six inches shorter than me, but probably had forty or fifty pounds on me. He was built like a goddamn fire hydrant. He had the high fade going and was probably twenty-seven or eight. He was Filipino or Hawaiian or some combination of Pacific Islander and looked exactly like what I thought a Marine should look like. He was kinda handsome, but he definitely had some bulldog in him.

I was disappointed that Sergeant Oka had some little white Japanese sedan, and it wasn’t a jeep or some sort of official military vehicle. I was even more disappointed when we rolled up to McDonald’s. Even in those days, I didn’t really like the way I felt when I ate that food. We went to the McDonald’s right around the corner from Easy Street, which was just south of Osborn on 24th Street, and we got our burgers and sat down.

He was a good guy. He sized me up pretty quickly, too, and started in with some line about me just being there for the free food. I admitted that it was the only reason I was there and said he appreciated my honesty. He said he wasn’t a “hard sell” kind of guy and we just chatted about school and my life and his life for a bit.

I liked him.

I told him that my mom and aunt owned a sandwich shop around the corner, and he asked if we could walk over before he took me home as they would still be there prepping for the next day. I hadn’t told my mom I would be talking to the Marines recruiter that day, so she was a bit surprised to see me walk in with him. I wish I had a better recollection of how that conversation went, both during, and the one we had at home that night. The gist of it, if I recall correctly, was that my mom thought wasting this guy’s time was a dick maneuver.

Sergeant Oka asked if I would consider having one more chat with him and asked me to think for a few days about why I thought being in the military was a big joke. He said that was all he would ask of me. Just think about why I was so opposed to joining the Marines and for us to have a talk about it. I figured, “why not?” and said, “Sure.”

I can’t remember exactly how long it was between our chats, but again we went to McDonald’s by Easy Street and talked about the Marines. I explained that if I was going to join any branch, it would be the Army because my grandfather had been in the Army, and he shared with me all the things he thought the Marines could do for me.

This is around December, probably of 1986, or early January 1987. I was the perfect get for Sergeant Oka. I didn’t want to go to college, and I didn’t really have a plan and I liked taking standardized tests. If I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), he said he would take me out for a steak.

Again, “Why not?” What did I have to lose? I’d take the test, which was down at one of the old hotels on Van Buren that’s not even there anymore and I’d get a steak. I figured he would take me to Bill Johnson’s or something like that and I was right. It was Sizzler, but same difference, and that was that.

A few days later he invited me to come down to the Marine Recruiting office at Christown to talk about my test results. He offered me a pretty sizeable, at the time, GI Bill and because I did so well on the test, he said I could also have a choice of where my first duty station would be. While I was there, I saw the Army office, and said, “You know, Sergeant Oka, I’m still more inclined to be in the Army if I do this. I think I’ll see what they have to say.”

He was not happy about this at all, but said he understood and wished me luck.

I walked into the office and told the Army guy that I had talked to the Marines, taken the ASVAB, and wanted to see what the Army had to offer. I met a Staff Sergeant, which means that he had a rocker under his three stripes, and his name was something like Gibson or Wilson or Simpson. I have blocked it out, probably because he was full of fucking shit, but it was something like that. He wore glasses and was tall and looked a little bit like Jeffrey Dahmer, or maybe more like the guy who played Jeffrey Dahmer in the movie about him as a younger guy, My Friend Dahmer.

This should have been a warning to me, but I wouldn’t see that movie for a long, long time after meeting the Sarge.

See you tomorrow.

Stole this from the's an old picture of Christown.

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